How China became Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner, revived ancient Silk Road 

Special How China became Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner, revived ancient Silk Road 
China has emerged today as the Arab region’s largest trade partner.(AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2022

How China became Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner, revived ancient Silk Road 

How China became Saudi Arabia’s top trading partner, revived ancient Silk Road 
  • Modern China exports textiles, electronics and machinery to Saudi Arabia and imports crude oil and primary plastics
  • Both nations well placed to expand cooperation in the circular carbon economy, renewables and high-tech industries

RIYADH: Decisions made over the past decade since Xi Jinping became president have placed China on a firm footing to become Asia’s — if not the world’s — pre-eminent economic power. The country’s many achievements are in the limelight as Xi pays a state visit to Saudi Arabia in response to an invitation from King Salman.

Thanks to sweeping reforms, diplomatic engagement, and massive infrastructure development, China has emerged today as the Arab region’s largest trade partner, reclaiming its historic mantle as an export powerhouse.

What makes China such a resilient exporter is the diversity of products it manufactures — having shifted away from agriculture, clothing and textiles into electronics, machinery and computers — making it less vulnerable to market volatility.

The rise of China did not happen overnight of course. In the early 1970s, the country’s share of global trade stood at less than 1 percent. Then, after a series of reforms designed to open up the economy, demand for exports boomed, growing from $2.31 billion in 1970 to $7.69 billion in 1975.

The country’s many achievements are in the limelight as Xi pays a state visit to Saudi Arabia. (SPA)

By 1985, Chinese exports had reached a value of $25.77 billion, growing throughout the decade until 1993 when exports almost doubled in value in just one year from $53.36 billion to $104.61 billion in 1994.

Further growth followed China’s induction into the World Trade Organization in December 2001, stimulating a surge in value worth $520.24 billion over a period of just five years.

In 1990, China was ranked 14th among the top world exporters, representing just 1.8 percent of global exports. By 2000, it had risen to seventh place, making up 3.9 percent, just behind the UK and Canada.

In 2004, China overtook Japan as the world’s third-largest exporter, accounting for 6.5 percent of global exports. Then, in 2007, the value of Chinese exports broke the $1 trillion threshold for the first time, reaching $1.26 trillion.

Although the 2008 global financial crisis briefly slowed Chinese export growth, it quickly rebounded. By 2009, China had overtaken Germany as the world’s largest exporting nation, making up 9.6 percent of global exports. 

Unbowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, resulting in lockdowns, travel bans and a global economic slowdown, China’s exports have continued to grow, reaching an estimated $3.55 trillion in 2021.

China and the Arab world have a trade relationship stretching back 1,500 years to the time of the Silk Road, when Chinese fabrics came overland to the Arabian Peninsula and Arab incense, frankincense and pearls were carried to East Asia.

The name “Silk Road” was first coined by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877 to describe the ancient trade routes between East Asia and Europe. The concept of a great unifying belt continues to inspire trade relations to this day.

Today, China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner. According to Reuters news agency, bilateral trade between the two countries reached $87.3 billion in 2021, with Chinese exports to the Kingdom reaching $30.3 billion and China’s imports from Saudi Arabia totaling $57 billion.

China’s main exports to Saudi Arabia are textiles, electronics and machinery, while China mainly imports crude oil and primary plastics from the Kingdom. In the first 10 months of 2022, China’s Saudi oil imports reached 1.77 million barrels per day, valued at $55.5 billion, according to Chinese customs data.

China’s global exports 

• 1970: $2.31bn

• 1985: $25.77bn

• 2000: $253.1bn

• 2005: $773.34bn

• 2010: $1.65 trillion

• 2020: $2.72 trillion

• 2021: $3.55 trillion 

Bilateral trade between Saudi Arabia and China grew steadily after the signing of a memorandum of understanding in November 1988, growing to $5.1 billion in 2002, of which China’s exports were worth $1.67 billion and imports $3.43 billion.

In October 1999, China’s then-President Jiang Zemin became the first Chinese leader to visit Saudi Arabia, where he signed a strategic oil deal with the Kingdom to help fuel China’s booming manufacturing sector.

In 2000, crude oil exports to China alone were valued at $1.5 billion. By 2010, they were worth well over $25 billion. In 2022, Saudi Aramco invested in a $10 billion refining and petrochemicals complex in China — the largest Saudi investment in China.

In September 2013, Xi announced the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative — formerly known as One Belt One Road, and often referred to as the new Silk Road — during an official visit to Kazakhstan.

The initiative sets out to connect the markets and manufactories of East Asia to those of Europe via a vast logistical and digital network running through Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa in a modern-day reimagining of the ancient Silk Road.

China’s exports have continued to grow, reaching an estimated $3.55 trillion in 2021. (AFP)

Considered the centerpiece of Xi’s foreign policy agenda, the Belt and Road Initiative is a global infrastructure development strategy, investing in 149 countries and international organizations, and which has been likened to the US Marshall Plan of the late 1940s.

The initiative, which was incorporated into the Chinese constitution in 2018, has a target completion date of 2049, intended to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative shares the same goal of boosting interconnectivity through cooperation in energy, trade, investment and technology as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 social reform and economic diversification agenda, launched in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Beyond energy, technology and sustainable development, another emerging area of cooperation between the two nations is logistics. The Kingdom’s courier, express and parcel services market is forecast to grow over the next five years, offering the Belt and Road Initiative a valuable source of haulage infrastructure.

Saudi-based companies like AJEX and its international e-commerce express service are looking at ways to improve trade between China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and the wider Middle East to keep up with the demand for cross-border commerce.

By working together, diplomats and business leaders say Saudi Arabia and China are well-placed to expand their cooperation in the circular carbon economy, hydrogen power, renewable energy, and a host of other sustainable and high-tech industries.

In 2019, Chen Weiqing, China’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said his country’s Belt and Road Initiative is wholly consistent with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 agenda, highlighting both governments’ common interests and readiness to collaborate.

“China and the Kingdom are among the leading forces of dialogue among civilizations,” Chen said at the time in an opinion article for Arab News. “Cooperation between China and the Kingdom enjoys the characteristics of strategy, harmony, and mutual benefit.”

During the Chinese-Arab Friendship Association meeting in 2021, Mohammed Al-Ajlan, chairman of the Saudi-Chinese Business Council, said more than a dozen Chinese investors had expressed an interest in various Saudi infrastructure projects.

“The economic and financial cooperation between the Arab countries and China witnessed a clear development in the process of consolidating trade and investment relations,” Al-Ajlan said in a statement at the time.

“(We are) looking forward to more efforts to support trade exchange and joint investments by taking advantage of the opportunities available in all countries.”

Closing bell: TASI plunges 143 points to close at 10,589 

Closing bell: TASI plunges 143 points to close at 10,589 
Updated 05 February 2023

Closing bell: TASI plunges 143 points to close at 10,589 

Closing bell: TASI plunges 143 points to close at 10,589 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index on Sunday lost 143.21 points — or 1.34 percent — to close at 10,588.58. 

MSCI Tadawul 30 Index dropped 1.45 percent to 1,454.10, while the parallel market, Nomu, slipped 0.48 percent to 18,905.15. 

TASI’s total trading turnover of the benchmark index was SR3.77 billion ($1 billion), with 46 stocks of the listed 224 advancing and 172 retreating. 

The worst performer was Al Yamamah Steel Industries Co., which crashed 5.06 percent to SR22.90. Other stocks that performed poorly were Saudi Printing and Packaging Co., Saudi Arabian Amiantit Co., Halwani Bros. Co. and Arabian Pipes Co. — all falling in the 4 percent range. 

Americana Restaurants International PLC was the top gainer, rising 4.76 percent in the week's first trading session to SR3.74.  

The other top gainers were Makkah Construction and Development Co., Buruj Cooperative Insurance Co., Amana Cooperative Insurance Co. and Salama Cooperative Insurance Co. 

Among sectoral indices, 18 of the 21 listed on the stock exchange declined, while the rest advanced. 

The Software & Services Index took the biggest hit plunging 1,104.79 points to close at 39,941.28. 

On the announcements front, Etihad Atheeb Telecommunication Co. informed the stock exchange that it booked a net profit of SR13 million in the nine-month period that ended on Dec. 31, 2022, from a net loss of SR 29.2 million in the year-ago period.  

The profit was driven by higher revenue, lower allowance for impairment in trade receivables, lower general and administrative expenses, and financial charges. 

The telco turned to a net profit of SR 8 million in the third quarter of 2022-2023, against a net loss of SR7.37 million a year earlier. Its share price fell 0.14 percent to SR69.90. 

Al Moammar Information Systems announced that it was awarded a project with a legal entity on Jan. 29 for SR42.4 million, including value added tax.  

The project includes the renewal of the technical support service for infrastructure systems, and the company expects to sign the contract on Feb. 28, it said in a statement. Its share price fell 0.43 percent to SR93.60. 

Meanwhile, Saudi Industrial Investment Group disclosed that the unplanned maintenance works in its subsidiary, Saudi Polymers Co., are still ongoing due to the nature of the mechanical repairs, which require additional downtime to guarantee safe and reliable operations.  

SIIG said that it expects to restart its operation a week later. Its share price fell 2.71 percent to SR22.28. 

Meanwhile, Batic Investments and Logistics Co.’s fully-owned subsidiary, Batic Real Estate Co., said, on Feb. 2, that it received the approval of Madinah Municipality to develop the Al-Khuzama residential neighborhood community. Its share price stayed flat at SR23.44. 

Energy-rich countries should lead transition journey, says IAEE president

Energy-rich countries should lead transition journey, says IAEE president
Updated 05 February 2023

Energy-rich countries should lead transition journey, says IAEE president

Energy-rich countries should lead transition journey, says IAEE president

RIYADH: Stressing the need for cooperation in the journey toward energy transition, the president of the International Association of Energy Economics said the shift should be led by energy-rich countries.

“Energy tech is coming to strengthen energy transition. Oil and gas-rich countries are now building their own way for the energy transition. The energy transition is not coming from western countries or India or China, and it is being led by energy-rich countries, but we have to learn, what time, what speed, etc,” Jean-Michael Glachant said. He also made it clear that financing is the key to achieving these goals.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Glachant said it will take another 30-50 years to achieve a transition to green energy.

“We are not close. But we are really starting. For about 15 years, we discussed; should we start, and when should we start. And now we are all understanding, yes, we have to do it. It will take 30 to 50 years,” he said.

“As long as we stay together, we are able to contain the damage. We have to find a way to compensate for damages because some countries will suffer more, while other countries less.”

The IAEE official said his organization is not just grateful but also lucky to host its 44th conference in Saudi Arabia, as the country is one of the key players in accelerating the global energy transition.

Glachant said that in line with its Vision 2030 blueprint, the Kingdom is charting its national sustainability path and setting an example for the rest of the world.

“There are many many advantages for IAEE to have Saudi Arabia as the host country. We are an association for energy economics. Saudi Arabia is building its own national sustainability path with its 2030 agenda. It is not only a pleasure, but it is an honor to enter the Kingdom and to discuss and interact with open-minded people of the region,” said the IAEE president.

“Saudi Arabia is leading a voice of the developing world in energy affairs. And we, at IAEE, want to discover what we can learn from Saudi Arabia,” he added.

It should be noted that the 44th IAEE conference is taking place in Riyadh from Feb. 4-9, and this is for the first time this event is being hosted in the Middle East.

“In this program, you would see that no big region in the world has been left behind. Really, the Saudis have done their best to have all the relevant people and all the relevant issues being put together,” he said.

According to Glachant, Saudi Arabia has several ideas about sustainable energy transition to share with the world and the IAEE event will serve as the perfect platform to showcase and discuss those ideas.

“To learn something is the core of the IAEE conference. When we do not learn something, the event is a failure. This is the first event in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is becoming independent in the way it is seeing the future and becoming rich to finance the future. If we cannot learn from such a place, I think we are sick,” he noted.

Glachant noted that the Middle East and North Africa region is leading the energy sector in the world and that the Saudi capital Riyadh is one of the most prominent global destinations for business and finance.

“Saudi Arabia is the world’s No. 1 country in terms of growth these days; not just growth in the oil sector, but also in the non-oil sector. So, Saudi Arabia is doing the unexpected by exploring new paths,” added Glachant.

He also lauded the efforts of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center in Saudi Arabia in carrying out research and framing energy policies to support a sustainable transition to green energy.

According to Glachant, the IAEE conference in Riyadh will help exchange ideas with big names in the region, and added that MENA is the “hotspot of energy which is also building its own energy economy.”

Glachant pointed out that there are several pillars of the energy transition, which include technology and innovation, direct and indirect investments, etc.

“It (energy transition) is a kind of car race. When you see your neighbor driving faster, sometimes, you try to do better than your neighbor,” he added.

Glachant was of the view that more progress was needed in the maritime and aviation sectors to meet sustainable targets.

“It is about technology innovation. We have to find ways of having that (aviation and maritime sectors) sustainable in a different way. Some planes run on electricity for small distances. But for long distances, what do we do? For maritime, what do we do,” Glachant questioned.

Energy transition has different meanings for each country, says French AEE president 

Energy transition has different meanings for each country, says French AEE president 
Updated 05 February 2023

Energy transition has different meanings for each country, says French AEE president 

Energy transition has different meanings for each country, says French AEE president 

RIYADH: There are different solutions to make energy a strong tool for economic development, as energy sources to reach mass consumption have to be economically feasible too, said a top industry expert. 

As the world has gathered for the 44th IAEE conference in Riyadh, the president of the French Association for Energy Economics, Christophe Bonnery, told Arab News in an exclusive interview that “energy transition has a different meaning from one country to another.”  

For instance, France has a big portfolio of nuclear and this is developing the future of the French energy system. 

Talking about different renewable energies, he said the strongest one is solar PV. “This is because if you look at the radiation from the sun to the earth, it brings a lot of energy.”  

Bonnery pointed out that technology does matter, and so is how you transform it into a form of energy that can be used for different consumers.  

“If you look at what is efficient, what is existing today, clearly the most important renewable energy is the hydraulic industry that has been existing for decades, if not centuries.” 

According to him, this is the most important technology that is existing today.  

“The future also belongs to wind energy and wind has to be developed in countries where you have wind, and it is not the case in every place.” 

Bonnery said that all these technologies have come under the same characteristic, which is also the case for nuclear, that it consumes a lot of capital. 

“You have to put the capital cost upfront, and this is generating some financing issues, then only a few countries can come under.” 

Bonnery pointed out that Saudi Arabia has the chance to be able to finance it, to afford these new technologies. “In some developing countries, it’s more difficult to find financing solutions.” 

He said that the Kingdom can help other countries willing to go to energy transition programs to develop their own programs. 

The 44th IAEE conference which is taking place at King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center discussed seven key topics such as energy volatility, security and access, and energy transition and pathways in investment and financing. 

KSA to continue playing key role in traditional and renewables energy sectors: S&P Global top official

KSA to continue playing key role in traditional and renewables energy sectors: S&P Global top official
Updated 05 February 2023

KSA to continue playing key role in traditional and renewables energy sectors: S&P Global top official

KSA to continue playing key role in traditional and renewables energy sectors: S&P Global top official

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is not just an oil-producing country, but also an unquestionable name in the entire energy sector, as the Kingdom hosts the 44th conference of the International Association for Energy Economics for the first time in the Middle East and North Africa region in Riyadh, according to a top expert. 

In an exclusive interview with Arab News on the sidelines of the conference, Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of S&P Global said that Saudi Arabia will continue to play a crucial role in both traditional energy sectors and renewables. 

“This conference is very important for the region and for Saudi Arabia. It underscores the fact that Saudi Arabia is not just a country for oil, but it is a country for energy, and Saudi Arabia’s role in energy transition as it continues to supply the oil the world needs,” said Yergin. 

He added: “Saudi Arabia is going to continue to be at the forefront as an oil producer. But also what you see in Saudi Arabia is much more use of renewables, particularly, solar for generating electricity." 

The S&P Global executive said that the big question before the global industry is the role of hydrogen, adding that if there is a global market for hydrogen, "Saudi Arabia will play an important role in that.” 

The IAEE conference comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is adopting several measures including the launch of the Voluntary Carbon Market to achieve the net-zero target by 2060. 

According to Yergin, the energy transition will not happen quickly, as the majority of the world countries are still dependent on hydrocarbon. 

“You just have to look at the numbers. Over 80 percent of world energy today is hydrocarbons. Energy transition, you are going to change it overnight. It will change. We have a developing world with 80 percent of the people that has far less energy, and they need energy for development,” added Yergin. 

He further noted that energy transition should be looked at from a global perspective rather than looking only through the lens of Europe and North America. 

“It (energy transition) takes time for it to happen. And there is a tendency to focus on the developed world and to underestimate the energy needs of the developing world where 80 percent of the people live, and their per capita income may be just five or 10 percent of the income in the developed world,” Yergin said. 

The S&P Global vice chairman noted that the mining sector will also have a crucial role to play in the energy transition, as the demand for minerals will witness a dramatic rise in the future. 

He added that the 44th IAEE Riyadh conference is highlighting the significance of minerals, which has not been part of the discussion in the event’s previous editions. 

“For instance, an electric car takes two and a half times more copper than a conventional car. That has to be mined, and it takes 16 to 25 years to open a new mine. I think, there is still an imbalance on how people are assessing the objective for energy transition, and materials needed for it,” he pointed out. 

According to Yergin, the economic growth in China and the way in which the Asian giant comes out of the Covid-related lockdown will have direct impacts in determining the price of oil. 

He further noted that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has changed the global energy map, especially after the EU introduced a price cap on Russian oil. 

“It is unprecedented what is happening because Europe said no to Russian energy, and Europe has been the main market for Russian energy. You also have price caps on Russian oil. And this is not merely an economic experiment. This is a geopolitical development that is happening,” said Yergin. 

Talking about S&P Global’s economic forecast for 2023, Yergin said that this year will witness global economic growth of 1.9 percent. He added that there is a possibility of a mild recession in the US and Europe.

“In 2024, we see global growth going back to around 3 percent. So, 2023 is going to be a transitional year for the global economy. It is compounded by the uncertainties of the Ukraine war. If that escalates, then it will introduce new risks,” Yergin added. 

Call for unified efforts to achieve net-zero goals

Call for unified efforts to achieve net-zero goals
Updated 05 February 2023

Call for unified efforts to achieve net-zero goals

Call for unified efforts to achieve net-zero goals

RIYADH: Highlighting the challenges on the road to the energy transition, energy expert Daniel Yergin called for making concerted efforts and setting realistic goals to achieve success in this regard.

The vice chairman of the American finance and insurance company S&P Global was speaking at a plenary session titled “Energy volatility, security and access” at the 44th conference of the International Association for Energy Economics in Riyadh on Sunday.

Yergin identified the main challenges as energy security, the size and scale of the transition, net zero goals, and government intervention.

He expressed his concern over the different timeframes set by various countries to achieve net zero.

Yergin said it was confusing to note that some countries have set to achieve their net-zero goal by 2050 but China’s goal is 2060 and India seeks to achieve it in 2070.

He also laid emphasis on government intervention in effectively achieving the net-zero goals and fighting climate change.

“A good example of this is the British government’s windfall taxes on North Sea oil,” he stressed.

The S&P Global’s top official also highlighted the importance of increasing copper production to help the energy transition goal but he also expressed concern over different countries’ respective capacities to boost its production as “it takes a long time to open copper mines.”

He said in addition to these challenges, there is a lot of uncertainty nowadays. Yergin said nobody expected the outbreak of COVID-19 or the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It would be difficult to predict what lies ahead, he added.

“The IAEE was founded in 1977 which was a time of energy turbulence and time of energy uncertainty and here, we are in 2023 — a new age of energy turbulence and energy uncertainty,” Yergin said.

“The complexities in the energy transition calls for deeper thinking and analysis.”